Baku and the Caspian Sea



November 3, 2012

Sunny and Mild 

Dear Friends and Lovers of the Sea,

Joy!  Unrestrained joy!

Joy!  Unexpected, giddy joy!  

I am filled with joy as I walk alongside the Caspian Sea. 

Who can explain it?

The Caspian Sea.  So exotic.  So distant.  So inaccessible. Yet, here I am.

Across the sea to the east lies the brooding Turkmenistan and enormous Kazakhstan. To the north looms Mother Russia.  To the south, the impenetrable Islamic Republic of Iran.  But here, as I gaze on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, I don’t know why, but I am so happy to be here.

My first stop is the Bulvar (Boulevard), a wide park and walkway that forms an arc around the harbor in Baku.  The sea is calm and brilliant this fall day.

Moms and dads accompany their young children on the park grounds and around the fountains.  Groups of high school kids and university students stroll leisurely and pose for photos for each other. Young courting couples “seclude” themselves in a “private” space in the open air beside the sea.  Lovely ethnic music fills the air from loudspeakers hidden in the trees.

Baku is impressive.  The ride from the airport to downtown is along a modern multi-lane roadway.  On either side are government buildings, modern office buildings and apartment houses. In the commercial area, skyscrapers are under construction.  Expensive hotels bearing every well-known international brand name welcome the business traveler. (There’s oil and natural gas out there in the Sea.)

Fountain Square is the focus of the center of the city.  The broad and almost endless complex of pedestrian walkways is lined with smart shops and restaurants.   There are even a couple of malls.

From my table at a café, I spy tall, tall, statuesque young women in high, high heel shoes who prance like runway models, arm in arm with slim, confident-looking young men. 

I know I’m not in Paris but it sure feels like it. 

The downtown area is elegant.  The public buildings are constructed with pale, blond granite. The facades are a blend of Greek-Roman-Turkish styles supplemented with the local preference for balconies that overhang the street.

The Old City of Baku is built on the hills overlooking the Sea.  Mosques, minarets, mansions, museums, palaces, galleries, parks, and archeological digs are all on offer.  Early one morning, I wander the empty streets; I climb the hills and the fortress walls.

Yet even as I climb, I turn towards the Sea.  The Caspian Sea. 

Joy.  Who can explain it!?

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